Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A New Type of Law School For the Next Generation of Law Students

First, I would like to thank James and Lou for inviting me to contribute to this very interesting and insightful blog. I hope that my contributions can add to the engrossing and important conversations already taking place on this blog with respect to legal skills and legal education.

To that end, I would like to make my first post focused on the changing nature of legal education. The need for more experiential learning as a part of legal education (so that law students can graduate with a much better idea of how to be lawyers and not just really good law students) has been recognized within the legal education community for some time (See the infamous Carnegie Report found here http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/sites/default/files/publications/elibrary_pdf_632.pdf for a interesting discussion concerning this issue).

However, the below "thought experiment" put forth previoulsy by Dean Roger Dennis of Drexel Law School focuses on how to actually organize a law school and structure the legal curriculm to provide law students not just with the best legal education, but also to address the rising cost of law school tuition. Dean Dennis poses several interesting questions regarding the effectivness of this proposed model.  I would be interested in hearing others thoughts as well as answers to the questions posed.   

The No-Frills Law School

"We are in the midst of back to school blogging blitz about the future of legal education, particularly focused on issues related to the interaction of cost, student debt, and the job prospects for our students.  To further the discussion, as a thought experiment, I present a model of an ABA-accredited, university-based private law school covering all its costs at the $20,000-per-year tuition level.

The Class of 1957 College of Law will have 500 students.  It will not offer any financial aid; one price for all will create $10 million in revenue.  Let’s imagine how this revenue will be expended.

The law school’ s full time faculty of twenty will be recruited from the legion of highly talented experienced practitioners who would bring much to the classroom but do not want to produce traditional law review scholarship.  They will be pleased to work at the law school for $100,000 per year plus benefits.  Because the law school will not have a scholarly mission, full-time faculty members will teach three courses per academic term.  It will not have a sabbatical program.  Faculty professional development will be focused on improving teaching, nothing else.  The curriculum will be meat and potatoes, no seminars on postmodern jurisprudence or corporate governance in the EU for The Class of 1957.  Instead, all students will take many efficiently scheduled required courses such as evidence, commercial law, federal income tax, business organizations, trust and estates, family law and legal drafting.  Students in these courses will be required to do many exercises graded by teaching assistants.  Every student will also take pre-trial and trial advocacy, taught by the many noted practitioner friends of the dean.  The law school will add to its teaching resources by also using adjuncts to teach significant portions of the non-core upper-level doctrinal curriculum, as do most other law schools.  Beyond our trial advocacy and legal drafting programs, the experiential education program will be based on other simulation courses and well monitored externships.  In sum, the teaching budget will be $3.5 million.

Freed from the need to support faculty scholarship, the law library can meet all the needs of the 1957 Law School community, with a collection development and personnel budget of $1.25 million.  Of course, the law school will have the usual array of student services such as career placement and academic support.  Also, it will provide general administrative support for the institution.  The budget for direct operating expenses and support will be a generous $3 million.  Indirect support to cover shared university expenses will cost $2 million.  After all, the president and provost do need to be paid.  It also would be wise to pay those pesky utility bills and other building expenses.  That leaves an annual $250,000 contingency fund.

So here are some questions about the 1957 Law School.  Do the economics work?  Would you send your kid to this school?  More generally, is the model attractive to a sufficient number of qualified students who are likely to pass the bar so that 1957 Law School could attract a class?  As a competitive matter, is the price sufficiently low, considering the discounting practices of competitors?  Would enough potential employers give the 1957 Law School students a chance?  Answers to my questions fervently sought."


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Sounds almost like what law schools were like before those not in the top 10 tried to "out-Yale Yale" in a futile attempt to impress US News editors and a similarly unsuccessful attempt to collect votes from faculty at other schools in the US News surveys. The major difference is the addition of "many exercises" (yay! I've been doing that in my courses for several decades) and a more practice-focused curriculum. Expect to be criticized severely (as I have been for similar proposals), particularly because the deeper philosophical understanding of law (think S.J.D.) isn't so apparent (even though I have demonstrated, through actual experience, that policy, jurisprudence, and critical thinking don't disappear, don't need to disappear, and ought not to disappear simply because the focus is on the client and not on the theories of other law faculty).

Posted by: James Edward Maule | Aug 31, 2011 5:58:28 AM

The questions have been answered--in the affirmative and some time ago. The 1957 law School (with only minor or positive differences--e.g., few if any TAs, costs currently at the $15,000-per-year level) already exists and has been around for more than twenty years. The real question is not whether it's conceivable, but why it's hidden behind a screen of prejudice.

Andy Starkis
Massachusetts School of Law

Posted by: Andy Starkis | Aug 31, 2011 5:06:01 AM

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